Can we admit one thing? Everybody got this wrong. Jeremy Lin is now a member of the Houston Rockets, and the battle lines are being drawn. But if you really stop to look at it, there’s blame to be laid on all sides. First things first – let’s look at the player.
Jeremy Lin is a point guard who has explosive speed, a decent jump shot, spotty court vision, and makes sometimes baffling decisions with the basketball. His numbers were good – he averaged 18 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 steals in the 25 games that he started for the Knicks before he went down with a knee injury in late March. He was, however, prone to turning the ball over, averaging five TO’s per contest, and his defense against scoring point guards wasn’t stellar. We’ll give him a pass, for now, because he’s a young player, who still has some room to grow. What he can’t be excused for is sitting out the playoffs.
Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but the way it looks now, Lin appears to have put a cap on his season to maximize his value in free agency. He was afraid that if he came back at “85%” in the playoffs, and didn’t perform well, he might lose some of his worth. The fact of the matter is, the Knicks could have desperately used him against Miami in the first round, but instead it was a quick exit for the Knicks, who are still searching for their first playoff series win since beating the Raptors and Heat in 2000. If, and that’s a big if, he was angling for more money by holding out, it worked.
Now, if the argument centers around “Lin should be a Knick,” how do we point the finger at the player, and why? It’s simple really – he pushed himself out of NY. There are two ways we can frame this: The first, and most likely scenario, is that he had no desire to play with Melo and the rest of the cast in New York. He saw trouble down the road with Woodson’s new half court system, and a ball stopper at the small forward position that would take shots from Lin at the point, so he made it incredibly difficult for the Knicks to re-sign him. The second scenario is that he took a calculated risk. He was originally offered 20 million by the Rockets. When New York said that it would match, Lin and his agent went back to the Rockets looking for a bigger payday. He figured that the Knicks would match it no matter what, so he had the Rockets throw in 5 million more. I have a hard time buying into scenario number two only because the money was added to the third year only. Lin knew that the Knicks would be in luxury tax hell in 2014-2015, and he made New York signing the offer sheet cost-prohibitive.
So, we’ve talked about Lin part in all of this, but how about the front office? Ultimately, it was Dolan, Grunwald, and Woodson, who put this whole issue to bed, and ended Lin’s time in New York. Of course it’s a lot more complicated than that. The front office had to look at the current state of the roster, the luxury tax threshold that they were set to cross in 2014, and the talent of the player in question. They chose to let him go. But let’s break it down further. We’ve already discussed the talent of Jeremy Lin; he would be a clear upgrade over an out of shape Raymond Felton, and an over-the-hill Jason Kidd. So why let him go? It’s all about the Benjamin’s baby. But there had to be a way to make it work, right?
I say yes. Lin’s poison pill contract would have had him making 14.8 million dollars at the start of the 2014-2015 season, at which time the NBA’s new luxury tax would kick in. With the tax, and Lin’s base salary, he would have cost New York 43 million in that season alone. I can understand the hesitation. But aren’t there other contracts on the Knicks roster that could have been moved or dumped to get them below the luxury line before Lin’s big payday? Amare, Melo, and Chandler will each make over 15 million in that season, which is more than enough wiggle room for Lin to squeeze in, should one of them leave town. It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that Amare, with his bulky knees and back, will be retired by then. It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that a bloated expiring contract like Melo’s or Chandler’s could be moved in that offseason to a team looking for cap clearance. Heck, if Joe Johnson can get traded, there’s no reason one of those guys couldn’t find a new home. The worst case scenario is that they’d have to cut Amare (or even Lin) before that start of the luxury tax year. But even that’s not bad! With the new “stretch provision,” the team could have spread what was left on either contract over a three year period, thus holding them under the big money line.
What we had here was a failure to communicate. If, right from the get-go, the Knicks had made an offer, or pulled the phenom point guard aside and said, “We’ll get you your money, but if you want to play here, we need to structure a deal that works for us too,” then none of this would have happened. Instead, the two sides never spoke to each other, Lin signed an offer sheet, New York told the world they would match it, and then they backed off. As it stands, Lin looks greedy, the Knicks look like backstabbers, and the Rockets look like bunch of genius’. How it looks on the court in 2013 and beyond, is anyone’s guess.